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iPhone 4 pre-order chaos is busiest online sales day of AT&T history

Apple and AT&T, which began taking pre-orders for a new version of the iPhone today, struggled Tuesday to handle demand at their retail and online outlets, according to customers, store representatives and technology websites.

Apple's website crashed intermittently Tuesday under the weight of orders. Calls to Apple's customer-service line wouldn't go through because of high volume. Rumors flourished online Tuesday that Apple had already sold out of the phone through pre-orders.

The day turned out to be the busiest online sales day in AT&T history, according to a company release, which confirmed that iPhone 4 devices ordered after Tuesday would not be received until June 25 or later. Originally pre-orders were due for delivery on June 24. 

The AT&T statement: "Because of the incredible interest in iPhone 4, today was the busiest online sales day in AT&T history. As of Tuesday afternoon, customers who preorder iPhone 4 moving forward will receive their device on June 25 or later, depending on when the order is placed. We’ll email customers with confirmation once their order is placed, and again when it ships.  In addition, we will have devices available on a first-come, first-serve basis in our stores beginning on June 24."

The phone, which starts at $199, still will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis in AT&T's U.S. stores beginning June. 24. That price requires a two-year service contract with AT&T.

On Miami Beach, employees at the Apple store on Lincon Road said it had not seen the choas of other stores around the country, but Apple employees were advising current iPhone owners to use a Apple Store app to pre-order.

Enzo Balc of Coral Gables gave up after several tries over Apple Store online, planning to try again Wednesday.

"It failed constantly but I still not sure if it ever went through,'' Balc said.

Gabriel Halley, 24, of Miami and owner of an iPhone 3G, tried to order an upgrade from Apple's website at 8 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and again at 5:30 p.m. without luck; each time the site locked up with an error, he said. He didn't want to try ordering through AT&T after reports of errors causing private customer data to be leaked.

If he can't get it in two months, he'll give up. Halley said, "I've been on the border between this and the HTC Evo,'' an Android phone sold at Sprint.

Apple Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs unveiled the fourth-generation iPhone earlier this month, showing off a thinner smartphone with a sharper screen that can make video calls. The iPhone has become Apple's top-selling product, accounting for 40 percent of revenue last quarter.

Analysts had predicted strong sales. Ben Reitzes, an analyst at Barclays Capital in New York, said in a report issued early in the day that he expected the company to sell 8.1 million iPhones this quarter, which ends June 26.

The iPhone 4 comes to market as Apple faces mounting competition from Google, whose Android mobile-operating software runs handsets from HTC and Motorola.

Apple rose $5.41, or 2.13 percent, to $259.69 in Nasdaq Stock Market trading. The shares had advanced 21 percent this year before today.

Bloomberg News contributed to this report.

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